05.31.16

Murray Urges Continued Action to Improve Access to Financial Aid for Unaccompanied Homeless Students

In new letter, Murray presses the Department of Education to implement improved standards and processes for homeless students applying for financial aid through the 2017-18 FAFSA

 

Newly-released GAO Report found that homeless students face unique challenges to receiving financial aid

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent a letter urging the Department of Education to address obstacles unaccompanied homeless students face in applying for and receiving financial aid. In the letter, Murray outlined steps that are needed to improve and streamline the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for unaccompanied homeless students. Specifically, Murray called on the Department to exclude burdensome parental information requirements and to clarify the definition of “youth” from the FAFSA form and other guidance in order to ensure that all unaccompanied homeless youth up to age 24 have a streamlined way to receive the protections they need as independent students. Murray expressed serious concern that the proposed 2017-18 FAFSA does not clearly articulate a fair and simple process for unaccompanied homeless students to apply for financial aid, and provided several recommendations on how to better ensure these students have a clear path to financial support so that they can afford to attend and succeed in higher education.

 

“Throughout my time in the Senate, I have fought to remove educational barriers for homeless children and youth…I am particularly concerned about the serious roadblocks unaccompanied homeless students face in applying for and receiving financial aid,” wrote Senator Murray in the letter. “As you know, unaccompanied homeless youth are young people who experience homelessness while not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. Many unaccompanied youth have experienced severe trauma, including abuse and neglect and family dysfunction…It is critical that the Department of Education streamlines the path for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive the financial support they need to attend and succeed in higher education.” 

 

Senator Murray’s latest steps follow an initial letter sent to the Department back in February, and the release of a new report from the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO), which identified several key challenges unaccompanied homeless youth face in pursuing higher education. These challenges include:

 

  • limited professional assistance;
  • burdensome financial aid documentation and verification processes; and,
  • inadequate resources available to assist youth in navigating the financial aid system.

 

Senator Murray has introduced legislation to help ensure that unaccompanied homeless youth have strong and clear pathways into and through higher education. The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act requires colleges and universities to improve outreach, resources, and policies for homeless and foster youth, including by streamlining eligibility determinations for financial aid, providing housing options between terms, and designating a single point of contact responsible for providing supports for these students. The bill also requires the federal government to provide ways to help resolve questions about a student’s independence and ensure its programs identify, recruit, and prepare homeless and foster students for college. The bill also encourages states to grant in-state tuition rates for students who haven’t had stable residency.

 

Full text of recommendations is available HERE.

 

Full text of the letter is available below:

 

 

May 31, 2016

 

The Honorable Dr. John King

Secretary of Education

United States Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue Southwest

Washington, DC 20202

 

Dear Secretary King:

 

Throughout my time in the Senate, I have fought to remove educational barriers for homeless children and youth. As I expressed to you in a letter earlier this year, I am particularly concerned about the serious roadblocks unaccompanied homeless students face in applying for and receiving financial aid. Removing these barriers can help more young people pursue a college degree and achieve their dreams.  

 

As you know, unaccompanied homeless youth are young people who experience homelessness while not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. Many unaccompanied youth have experienced severe trauma, including abuse and neglect and family dysfunction. Because unaccompanied youth do not receive financial support from their parents, they do not have the necessary parental information to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is critical that the Department of Education (“the Department”) streamlines the path for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive the financial support they need to attend and succeed in higher education. 

 

In February, I requested that the Department align the definition of “youth” in the FAFSA with the definition under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA, P.L. 110-84). I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to continuing to work together to address this issue in the coming year. In addition, I appreciate the Department’s work in addressing many of the barriers unaccompanied homeless youth face in the most recent Application and Verification Guide (AVG) and the July 29, 2015 Dear Colleague letter (GEN-15-16).

 

Unfortunately, the proposed 2017-18 FAFSA also contains solvable barriers to success for unaccompanied homeless youth. Instead of taking into account the strides made by the AVG and your recent Dear Colleague, the proposal instead contains harsh and aggressive language that intimidates, instead of supports, unaccompanied homeless youth. In particular, I was concerned to see that unaccompanied homeless youth are told that all decisions are final, which would imply that they do not have the option to contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman with questions about their status or challenges they may face in receiving the required determinations. And, students are told to provide written documentation about their living situation – an impossibility for many, if not most, of these homeless students. As the Dear Colleague clearly states, if a student does not have written evidence of their situation, their financial aid administrator may make a determination about your status based on a documented interview with you. It is also important to note, as so clearly stated in the Dear Colleague, that financial aid administrators is required to make a homeless youth determination upon request.

 

In order to ensure that all unaccompanied homeless youth have a clear path to financial support, I urge the Department to take into consideration the recommendations I have attached, which are aligned with the AVG and the Dear Colleague. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

 

###